How Innovation Can Improve Employee Wellbeing: Q&A with Jared Rice

Wellness and technology expert Jared Rice tells In The Future that personalization is the future of corporate health programs


Conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Employee wellness doesn’t just lead to a healthier workplace—it leads to a better workplace. Employees that have healthy lifestyles are often better engaged with their work, more productive and are likely to stay with a company for longer. Applying the right technology, from wearables to digital health platforms, can allow employees to thrive even more.

Jared RiceJared Rice, the Vice President of Technology at Wellness Corporate Solutions (WCS), spoke to In The Future about how technology and innovation is improving employee well-being programs. WCS is a corporate wellness company that offers organizations biometric screenings, flu vaccines, health coaching and customized wellness programs.

According to Rice, using the right technology helps wellness programs focus on individualization—and not only improve employee wellbeing, but also an organization’s entire corporate culture.

ITF (In The Future): In your unique role, how are you applying technology to corporate wellness programs?

Jared: The technology that we build and manage is geared towards delivering wellness services in a seamless and user-friendly way. We always want the employee to have a comfortable experience, whether that’s scheduling and attending a screening appointment or communicating with a health coach.

Coaching provides a strong example of how we are applying key technology trends. We offer omni-channel communication—participants can experience a telephonic coaching session once a month and supplement their conversation with texts, email reminders and online message threads. In this way, technology is facilitating a personalized, seamless process for each participant while promoting prolonged engagement.

ITF: How is the traditional wellness program evolving?

Jared: There’s been a strong shift towards taking a comprehensive view of health and wellness for an individual employee. It’s not only looking at the typical markers of physical health, like body weight and biometrics, but also mental and emotional health, sleep, stress management, social health and financial wellness. Companies are trying to round out their programming to make it more valuable for the employee.

ITF: And where does technology play the most important role?

Jared: There’s a simultaneous trend to personalize these solutions. With AI and machine learning penetrating nearly all industries, corporate wellness programs are also using this technology to drive a more personalized experience for employees. That way, they can take advantage of a wellness program that’s more catered to them, their lifestyles and their individual needs. Individualization based on an employee’s biometric outcomes, for instance, has been in play for a while. But now that we’re able to capture so much more data on people from wearables or the interaction they have within a wellness portal, companies are using all of that data to further drive the personalization of programming.

ITF: Beyond employee health, why are good wellness programs important for companies?

Jared: There’s been a lot of undulation and change in wellness programming. Initially organizations were mainly focused on health of the covered population—promoting enhanced wellbeing to reduce healthcare expenses while increasing productivity and employee satisfaction. More and more these programs represent something that employees really want to see when they’re evaluating employers. Wellness programs are being recognized as a tool for promoting engagement, enhancing recruitment efforts and retaining employees—especially in the current tight job market in the U.S.

ITF: What would you pinpoint as one of the biggest tech trends in wellness programs?

Jared: Wearables have grown by leaps and bounds over the past years. At the core of it, the true benefit of those tools hasn’t changed immensely—although, they can now measure and track a lot more information. If anything, they’ve become more ubiquitous and recognized as a valuable element of wellness programming.

ITF: How do you see corporate attitude towards wellness programs changing?

Jared: Our sales process used to involve convincing companies to do a wellness program in the first place. There’s certainly been an enormous change in that we’re no longer selling organizations on the need for them to have a wellness program. Now, the focus is on what pieces of the program they need and which are the most valuable for their unique population. Companies have also shifted away from looking at wellness programming through a hard-dollar, ROI lens. They used to look for a table calculation that would show precisely the dollar return for a dollar spent. More companies are recognizing the value of creating a culture of health in the workplace and an environment where people want to be.

ITF: What does a company risk losing without a sound, up-to-date wellness program in place?

Jared: Wellness programs can take a lot of shapes in an organization. Just because you don’t have a formal wellness program with an internal team, or a vendor selling a platform, doesn’t mean you lack a culture of health and wellness. But for the organization that has nothing integrated into the culture to promote healthy lifestyles, work-life balance, healthy eating choices, movement during the day, routine exercise and stress management. I think they’re taking a significant risk with employee recruitment and retention. Younger employees, and millennials especially, really want to see that kind of culture. They understand that workplaces are where they spend a majority of their waking hours, and they want to see a place that aligns with their own personal values.

ITF: How will wellness programs continue to evolve along with technology?

Jared: I think that the future is going to be shaped by the concept of personalization in well-being programs, coupled with the health concepts we’ve known to be valuable for a very long time. We’ll likely see more intelligently designed wellness platforms that have a comprehensive, full-circle approach to wellness. The company that gets those things right will create an experience of wellness in the workplace for employees and individuals that fits seamlessly into their concept of wellness outside the workplace. I think at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all striving for. We want to create a culture that not only promotes enhanced wellbeing, but also creates a more seamless environment between work and life when it comes to health. Coming to work for eight hours a day shouldn’t be a hiatus from the healthy lifestyle that you might uphold outside the office.

ITF: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to C-levels who need to improve their wellness programs?

Jared: My biggest piece of advice would be to engage yourselves. Workplace wellness programs have significantly higher rates of employee engagement, satisfaction and an overall respect for the program in general when executive-level sponsors exemplify a true belief in the program. We’ve seen it over and over again that when executives are engaged, and their involvement is visible to employees, programs are more successful. Of course, a secondary effect of executive-level engagement is that executives may see benefits to their own wellbeing—and at the end of the day, that’s the point.